7 differences between classical and neoclassical economics | Analytics Steps (2023)

Classical and neoclassical economics are two different approaches to defining economics. The foundations of classical economics were laid by eminent economists such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill. Authors and scholars such asWilliam Stanley Jevons, Carl Menger and Leon Walrasare said to have developed neoclassical economics.

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Since classical economics arose historically, the two ideas are very different. In contrast, neoclassical economics encompasses the economic ideas and concepts that are currently being pursued and accepted. The following blog provides a compact overview of classical and neoclassical economics, their underlying assumptions, criticisms, and main points of contention.

What is Classical Economics?

Classical economic theory posits that a self-regulating economy is most efficient and successful because individuals adapt to meet the needs of others as they arise. According to classical economic theory, government intervention is unnecessary because the economy's citizens allocate scarce resources efficiently to meet the needs of individuals and businesses.

Prices in a traditional economy are determined by the cost of raw materials, labor, electricity, and other expenses involved in producing an end product. Government spending is considered minimal in classical economics. However, consumer spending on goods and services and business investment are seen as the main means of stimulating economic activity.

Assumptions on classical economics

  • A free-market capitalist economic system regulates itself through natural rules of production and exchange.

  • The rule of supply and demand allows the economic cycle to regulate itself. It promotes a laissez-faire system in which government plays a secondary role in determining the economic path.


  • Smith maintained that a nation's wealth is not determined by the gold in its monarch's coffers, but by its national revenues. Maybe you want to learn more about a countrygross national product.

  • Unrestricted competition and free trade without state intervention or control would benefit economic progress.

  • The country's economy will thrive when society allows individuals to pursue their interests, particularly through the abandonment of class-based social structures in favor of meritocracies.

  • The chaos created by competitive selling and buying would gradually give way to an orderly system of economic cooperation defined by economic agents working together to meet each other's needs.

  • Comparative advantage allows a country to become an efficient producer by focusing on a specific area of ​​expertise. In addition, countries benefit from importing from countries that produce a commodity lower than the domestic market. Visit our blog to learn more about using comparative advantageWhat is globalization?

Criticism of classical economics

  • Classical economists' theories, concepts, and explanations, particularly their beliefs or understanding of markets, were contradictory.

  • Marxist economics and the associated ideas of socialism and communism contradict traditional economic principles and advocate free competition and capitalism.

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  • Keynes emphasized that capitalist and free-market systems are nonetheless subject to underconsumption and underspending.
  • Keynesians advocate the promotion and subsequent implementation of economic policies that involve government intervention in the economy.

(Must check:What is economy? Keynesian and behavioral economics)

  • Unlike Keynesian economics, classical economics was unable to explain why the Great Depression happened. In addition, there were no recommendations to alleviate economic downturns.

(Related reading:What is Austrian national economy? Austrian Economics V/S Keynesian Economics)

What is neoclassical economics?

Neoclassical economics is a comprehensive approach that uses supply and demand to describe the production, pricing, consumption, and distribution of products and services. It combines the production cost theory of classical economics with the concepts of utility maximization. Stanley Jevons, Maria Edgeworth, Leon Walras, Vilfredo Pareto, and other economists contributed to neoclassical economics.

Neoclassical economics emerged in the early twentieth century. In 1933, neoclassical economics adopted imperfect models of competition. We used several novel methods including indifference curves and marginal revenue curves. The new tools help to refine their mathematical approaches and thus promote the growth of neoclassical economics.

Economists integrated Keynesian macroeconomic and neoclassical microeconomic ideas in the 1950s. The result of this synthesis was the neoclassical synthesis that has dominated economic thought ever since.

Assumptions of neoclassical economics

  • Free Markets:According to neoclassical economics, markets should be free of state involvement; A market with minimal government intervention will adjust itself according to the rules of supply and demand. In addition, free markets offer customers more options.

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  • Saving creates investment opportunities :Neoclassics believe that a high interest rate encourages saving, which in turn leads to increased investment. When consumers are offered a higher return on their savings, they will invest.

  • Consumers are rational agents:According to neoclassical economics, customers are rational agents who buy items based on their usefulness. Consumers weigh numerous considerations such as price, utility and satisfaction before making a purchasing decision.

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  • The perceived value of goods and services:The neoclassical school of thought posits that consumers have a perceived value for a particular product or service. Consumers, they argue, develop their perception of a product or service. Typically, a consumer's perception of a product outweighs its actual value. They also believe that a product's price is determined by its "perceived value" rather than its "cost of production."

  • Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility:ThatLaw of Diminishing Marginal Utilitystates that consumer satisfaction decreases with each additional unit consumed.

(Related reading:Marginal Utility Theory: Types and Applications)

For example, if a consumer is excessively thirsty and buys their first bottle of water to quench their thirst, they will experience maximum happiness. More bottles of water will satisfy him, but only to a lesser extent than the satisfaction from the first bottle of water. Before producing items, the producer determines the marginal cost.

  • Market Stability:According to neoclassical economists, market equilibrium is reached when both consumers and producers meet their respective goals. When sellers sell their goods at the price they are willing to sell them for and consumers buy items at a price they accept, the market is in equilibrium.

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  • Access to relevant information:According to Neoclassicals, consumers have access to all relevant information about a product. In addition, consumers can make decisions based on the availability of data.

Criticism of neoclassical economics:

  • Irrational Assumptions:One of the most common criticisms of neoclassical economics is its reliance on unreasonable assumptions. The assumption of rational behavior masks the vulnerability and irrationality of human nature. Behavioral economics deals with the study of irrational economic decisions. Research demonstrates human behavior in an economy through actual evidence. In addition, it is discussed whether the sole goal of an individual or a company should be utility or profit maximization.

  • Over-reliance on mathematical approaches:Neoclassical economics has been criticized for its over-reliance on mathematical techniques. The study is free of empirical science. The study, which relies too much on theoretical models, is insufficient to explain the actual economy, particularly an individual's interaction with the system. In addition, normative distortions can occur.

  • Excessive emphasis on complicated, unreasonable mathematical models:In addition, neoclassical economics has been criticized for over-reliance on sophisticated, unrealistic mathematical models. Complex models are useless for describing the real economy. Milton Friedman, an American educator and economist, asserted that in response to criticism, a theory should be judged on its predictive abilities. The complexity of the model or the realism of the assumptions are not sufficient to evaluate a theory.

Classical Economics vs. Neoclassical Economics:




  1. description

The value of a good or service is determined by its cost of production. The element of production, which includes labour, capital, land and entrepreneurship, determines theproduction costs.

The term "neoclassical economics" refers to a comprehensive theory that emphasizes supply and demand as the primary forces that determine the production, price, and consumption of goods and services.

  1. period of rule

The classical school of economics flourished in the late 18th and early to mid-19th centuries, particularly in Britain.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, neoclassical economics dominated microeconomics. It resulted in mainstream economics being dominated as neo-Keynesian economics.

  1. main thinker

The most important philosophers are Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, David Ricardo, Thomas Roberto Malthus and John Stuart Mill.

Neoclassical economics was influenced by economists such as Stanley Jevons, Maria Edgeworth, Leon Walras, Vilfredo Pareto, and others.

  1. objective

The classic school of economics is concerned with describing how economic systems expand and contract. All estimates and forecasts are made taking a broad view of the economy into account.

The neoclassical school of thought explains individual or corporate behavior in terms of a larger system. The neoclassical technique considers a single small component of a more practical approach in a segmented manner.

  1. Focus

Classical economics is a rather empirical subject. Its main goal is to explain the production system of capitalism through social and historical analysis.

Mathematical models are necessary for the study of neoclassical economics. It follows a mathematical approach rather than a historical one.

  1. balance

Equilibrium occurs in classical economics when savings equal investments.

(Related reading:A guide to price caps and price floors)

Equilibrium is a function of demand and supply in all markets in neoclassical economics. At the point where the supply and demand curves cross, there is equilibrium.

(Related reading:10 different types of pricing strategies)

  1. Benefit

In classical economics, profit is a remuneration paid to a capitalist for the fulfillment of a socially useful function.

Profit, according to neoclassical economists, is just the difference between profits and expenses.

bottom line

Neoclassical economics and classical economics are two very different schools of thought that describe economic concepts in very different ways.

According to classical economic theory, a self-regulating economy is most efficient and effective because individuals can adapt to meet the needs of others as they arise.

Neoclassical economics is based on the idea that individuals seek to maximize utility. Firms will maximize their profits in a market system in which individuals are rational beings with full access to all available information.


What is the difference between classical economics and neoclassical economics? ›

Classical economists assume that the most important factor in a product's price is its cost of production. Neoclassical economists argue that the consumer's perception of a product's value is the driving factor in its price. The difference between actual production costs and retail price is the economic surplus.

What are the major differences between classical and neoclassical theory? ›

The key difference between classical and neo classical theory is that the classical theory assumes that a worker's satisfaction is based only on physical and economic needs, whereas the neoclassical theory considers not only physical and economic needs, but also the job satisfaction, and other social needs.

What are some key differences between classical political economy is the surplus approach and neoclassical economics? ›

While neoclassical economics proposes a two-stage approach in which the welfare state intervenes ex post on market-determined income distribution to make up for market failures, the Classical 'Surplus' approach proposes a one-shot procedure by regarding the state, in its capacity to generate and control part of the ...

What are the 4 assumptions of neoclassical economics? ›

Neoclassical economics is a school of thought within the social sciences that insists on the innate rationality of consumers, the importance of the profit motive for companies, the need for governments to advocate for market equilibrium, and the influence of utility on prices.

What is common between classical and neoclassical economics? ›

Neoclassical economics is a comprehensive approach that uses supply and demand to describe the production, pricing, consumption, and distribution of products and services. It combines classical economics' cost-of-production theory and also the concepts of utility maximisation.

What are the main features of neoclassical economics? ›

Neoclassical economics emphasizes the choices (demand) of consumers. Personal preferences, allocation of resources, and some other factors can influence consumer demand. Thus, in neoclassical economics, the value of products and services are above their costs of production.


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